Proponents of public school choice were winning a tug-of-war over funding Tuesday when the Georgia Senate voted to add money to the state charter school system.
House Bill 787 would increase the per-pupil student allotment for schools operating under the State Charter Schools Commission, at a cost of about $17 million a year.
The legislation had been amended in the Senate Education and Youth Committee in a way that would have reduced the funding increase approved by the House of Representatives, but Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle didn't like his own committee's work and anticipated that the full Senate would undo it.
The Senate did, passing the bill 44-11 with a floor amendment that boosted the funding nearer what the House had intended.
Before the vote, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, chairman of the Senate’s education committee, had argued that even with his committee’s cuts the bill would have given state charter schools more per-student than is allocated for nearly one in three students in all public schools. He added that the increase that was ultimately approved by the Senate would give state charter schools more per-student than schools that educate more than half the 1.8 million students in the state.
Tippins was also concerned about a Senate floor amendment that cut his committee’s requirement that online charter schools perform on a par with traditional schools to qualify for the extra money.
“We’ve had a lot of problems with virtual schools because of low performance,” he said.
Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, who was pushing for the floor amendments, shot back: “We don’t fund schools in the state of Georgia based on performance. If we did, we’d have a lot of schools not getting a dime.”
HB 787 now must return to the House to address differences between the versions from each chamber.
While the Senate basically returned the funding to what the House had proposed, it added other elements, including an annual performance audit of online charter schools, a grant program for “replicating” high-performing charter schools and a $1,500 per semester college scholarship program for low-income students.
The language for that scholarship program came from Senate Bill 405, which did not get through the House.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution